It’s amusing to watch conservatives profess themselves horrified by Sen. Mary Landrieu’s statement that race still plays a major role in Southern politics, and that women still have a harder time than men.
“I’ll be very, very honest with you,” she told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.” She also noted that Louisiana has “not always been a good place for women to present ourselves. It’s more of a conservative place.”
The response has been harsh. The chairman of the Louisiana GOP claimed the remarks were “insulting to me and to every other Louisianian.” Gov. Bobby Jindal has demanded an apology, calling the remarks “offensive and ridiculous.” “Here in Louisiana and across the South, we don’t think in terms of black and white,” Jindal said. “The only colors that meet here are red, white, and blue.”
That may be the single most foolish thing that any politician has uttered in 2014.
In Louisiana, President Obama’s job approval rating among white voters is 17 percent. There are a lot of reasons for that low approval rating; many have absolutely nothing to do with race. But to claim that race plays no role, that a black politician has no harder time in the South than a white politician, is absurd.
And if what Jindal claims is true, how does he explain away this?
As the link above illustrates, there are 91 Republicans in the GOP-controlled Louisiana Legislature. Of those 91 members of the party that dominates state politics, six are women.
Six. Of 91. And Landrieu is supposed to apologize for noticing that?
And of those 91 Republican members of the Louisiana Legislature, one is black. One. But in Louisiana, “we don’t think in terms of white and black”?
In a state that is 32 percent black and 51 percent female, there is no way on God’s green earth to interpret those numbers other than as confirmation of Landrieu’s statement, and as a repudiation of Jindal’s claim that race no longer plays a role in Louisiana politics, society and commerce. As Zell Miller liked to say, “that turtle didn’t get up on that fencepost all by itself.”
Landrieu’s statement has drawn an angry response precisely because it is so accurate, and because it directly challenges a convenient notion of some that race and bigotry are things of the past. That notion is so cherished and so sancrosanct — despite its obvious absurdity — that any attempt to challenge it publicly must be shouted down. It’s the modern equivalent of the claim back in the Fifties that race relations in the South were just fine, and that any turmoil was the work of “outside agitators.”
People wanted to believe, needed to believe, in that illusion, and they responded angrily to anyone who dared to question it. Like any system that relies on illusion to sustain itself, it was destined to collapse under its own dishonesty.